Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue

What luck to be in Hudson, Wisconsin, as the same time as replica ships of Columbus' Nina & Pinta! We walked down to the dock on the St. Croix River and saw these two small ships that looked very much like the ones Columbus took across the Atlantic!

The Columbus Foundation had them built (see the website for much more on that) to educate the public about Columbus' voyage. According to them, the Nina & Pinta were classed as caravels, the explorer ships of the time (1492, remember the rhyme?), whereas his third ship, the Santa Maria, was a freighter that Columbus never liked that ran aground in Hispanola on its first voyage.

Our guides on the ship tour were young crewmen who had volunteered for the adventure. They not only knew the ship, they knew Columbus lore. They told us about the cargo hold below, and how Columbus' crew brought horses with them. To keep the horses in shape, they devised a hoist so that the horses could be lifted over the side and could swim in the water to keep in shape.

According to the Columbus Foundation, the Nina was Columbus' favorite ship. We were surprised at how small it was for an ocean-going vessel.

The modern version has up-to-date navigational tools and a motor, but we could easily imagine being at the mercy of the wind, waves, and tiller--no steering wheel here.
(the tiller)

I wish we could have seen the ships sailing in, their sails unfurled to catch the breeze. The ships were moored, sails tied, near a modern tour boat that outsized these old ocean goers.

Columbus is a controversial figure in our day as the one who opened the door for colonialism and European exploration, leading to exploitation of North America's people and resources. Here's an excerpt from his journal, Oct. 15, 1492, after Columbus and his crew had sailed since August:

"Stood off and on during the night, determining not to come to anchor till morning, fearing to meet with shoals; continued our course in the morning; and as the island was found to be six or seven leagues distant, and the tide was against us, it was noon when we arrived there. I found that part of it towards San Salvador extending from north to south five leagues, and the other side which we coasted along, ran from east to west more than ten leagues. From this island espying a still larger one to the west, I set sail in that direction and kept on till night without reaching the western extremity of the island, where I gave it the name of Santa Maria de la Concepcion. About sunset we anchored near the cape which terminates the island towards the west to enquire for gold, for the natives we had taken from San Salvador told me that the people here wore golden bracelets upon their arms and legs. I believed pretty confidently that they had invented this story in order to find means to escape from us, still I determined to pass none of these islands without taking possession, because being once taken, it would answer for all times...."

Nonetheless, to see this ship and consider his voyage lets us know Columbus' courage and idealism. The Library of Congress has some of his works. For more about Columbus see the Columbus Navigation page.

What explorer do you admire? Who are our modern day explorers?


  1. Jane, I've always been a little partial to Sacagawea. :) I wrote about her in my book and her trip began in North Dakota, so the reasons are numerous and fairly obvious. Without her, that particular mission would not have come to completion.

  2. P.S. P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet, is the book where she makes an appearance. I should have clarified. I share bits of her story with children when I do author visits.